IT'S NOT OFTEN that mathematicians are credited with having a mystique, much less have major plays written about them. But then Alan Turing wasn't your everyday math whiz. Turing, the brilliant British mathematician who cracked the Nazis' Enigma code is the fascinating subject of "Breaking The Code," a Broadway-bound drama at the Kennedy Center Eisenhower Theater. Turing also envisioned the modern computer 50 years ago, and his work was crucial to the war effort, but he was punished for his homosexuality by the government that had given him the Order of the British Empire, and comitted suicide at age 41 by biting into an apple dusted with cyanide.
I.J. Good, professor of statistics at Virginia Polytechnic Institute, worked as a statistical assistant to Turing on the Enigma project, and arrived at Turing's lab exactly the day the Bismarck was sunk. Good saw "Breaking the Code" in London's West End, and says playwright Hugh Whitemore and actor Derek Jacobi got the essence of the man about right. "I remember Turing as a kind person," Good says. "Some people thought he didn't have very gentlemanly manners. One of his habits that was not made use of when he was having an intellectual discussion, was he would go 'uh-uh-uh-uh,' a sound which worked to prevent the other guy from thinking, so Turing could stall for time to make his point. I don't remember him biting his nails, as Jacobi does in the play, but he did have a habit of sucking the nib of his pen, so he would have ink on his lips. But I had enough respect for him that his idiosyncracies never irritated me.
"He did tend to be rather truthful, and that didn't endear him to everybody," Good says. "But one reason for his candor was he didn't see anything particularly wrong with what he thought." For those who are interested in learning more about Turing, Good recommends Andrew Hodges' biography, "Alan Turing: the Enigma."
In addition to "Breaking the Code," which sensitively addresses the homosexuality of its central character, there are several other theaters offering sidelights on the gay experience, all in time for the influx of crowds expected for Sunday's Gay and Lesbian March on Washington.
Boston's satirical "Ten Percent Revue" continues at Source Theater's Warehouse Rep through October 17; John Moran's revival of the 1971 cabaret "In Gay Company" runs at Cabaret Beaux Arts indefinitely; D.C. Cabaret's "A Dance Against Darkness: Living With AIDS," which has been held over several times at d.c. space, will present a special post-March performance Sunday at 7 p.m.; and a Los Angeles troupe brings "The Adventures of Robin Hood," a political satire with narration by Quentin Crisp, for a free 7 p.m. performance at the Sylvan Theater this Friday.
"I'm a product of the '60s, and they were the women I grew up hearing on the radio," says Cookie Watkins, who pays tribute to her early idols in the '60s girl group revue "Beehive," applying her powerhouse wail to songs of soul divas Patti Labelle, Tina Turner and Aretha Franklin. "I've always been so in touch with those women -- they were very strong women to have done what they did when they did it. And they're still working artists. So I really feel if you're going to go out there and do those women, you've got to go for the gusto."
And Watkins certainly goes for it. "To look at me you wouldn't believe the sound that comes out of my mouth," says Watkins who's not a great deal taller than the triple scoop hairdo she wears in the show. "I was trained to sing without using a microphone, so belting it out with a mike is a piece of cake. My training was not exactly in the R&B vocal tradition -- I studied classical voice at Manhattan School of Music. I'd walk in to auditions and they would say 'You're a soprano?' I have a very funky little look and a very low speaking voice."
Watkins can say she was "discovered" by the late Duke Ellington. Her big brother Tony was a vocalist with the Ellington band, and one night Ellington heard 14-year-old Cookie singing in a dressing room. "So he brought me out on stage for the finale, and I sang little bits of 'A-Train' and 'Don't Mean a Thing If It Ain't Got That Swing.' " When Watkins turned 18, Ellington gave a coming-out party for her at the Rainbow Room, and he mentioned her in his autobiography, "Music Is My Mistress." "He said 'She's already singing up a storm and ready to take on the world,' Watkins says. "It was an incredible beginning."
Apparently Barbara Rappaport took the stage cliche' "break a leg" a little too literally. The actress, currently appearing in the post-feminist musical revue "A . . . My Name Is Alice," broke a foot in a household accident this week. But the show -- which is enjoying a successful run at Horizons Theater -- will go on. Rappaport will perform wearing a soft cast that costume designer Barbara Tucker-Parker has disguised in polka-dot fabric to match the cast's costumes.
Bulletin Board: Washington storyteller Jon Spelman presents his harrowing tales of the Vietnam War at Washington Project for the Arts, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. The story programs are part of WPA's "War & Memories" show. Tickets are $8 for WPA members; $10 for non-members. Call 347-4813 . . . The revival of the Helen Hayes Award-winning musical "Quilters" has been extended at Castle Arts Center through November 15 . . .